Modern man has lost his deep soul due to the unilateral focus on rationalism, which causes dreadful neurosis and existential crisis
Dostoyevsky in the west started warning against rational utopianism – converting a human being into a sort of piano key, a computer, a robot – when in fact there were deep “irrationalities” and “supra rationalities” embedded within man. He was followed by people like Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Jung, Adler and others who in their own ways dissolved rationality and rationalism into human sub-structures (like unconscious, ego, inferiority/ superiority complex, etc). They showed to western man that the problem with preaching “thoroughgoing rationalism” was that people would not be even aware of themselves, and their subconscious and unconscious would be dragging them to places best illustrated by Edward Bernays’ psychological engineering of mass consumerism in 20th-century America – where a ‘citizen’ was converted into a ‘consumer’ by tapping into his unconscious using advertisement and PR industry.
“Rational people” engaging in hot debates quite often get “emotional” whilst debating, driven by emotional/ irrational biases and then in the same breath try to defend “objective” rationalism, not realising the fatal contradiction at play. There are deep irrationalities and supra-rationalities that influence man, say for example, anger, which overpowers man in his speech and action. As James Hillman quotes W.H. Auden, the poet, “We are lived by powers we pretend to understand”. Not only man but Reality itself in its depths has nothing to do with rationalism or rational sensibility per se. It rises above rational categorisations. The questions, “why reality?”, “why existence?”, “why anything at all?” do not receive back any echo in rational terms.
It has to be noted that Reason is light (noor) from God (being a reflection of higher “intellect”/ nous on human plane) but not dogmatic rationalism (a philosophy) which is nothing but blinding horizontality. Rational part of being is just one aspect to man. Modern western thought sliced up man and evaporated all other (deeper) levels of being (which remain hidden in the background) that inform him and his “couched” rational behaviour. Dreams are one of the signs from this forgotten neglected underworld/ higher world. James Hillman talking about Jung’s Red Book points out that the primary language of psyche is “imagistic” and “poetic”, which is pre-dialectic and pre-logical (the same point is developed by Heidegger on “thinking” about reality in general, which is meditative/ poetic and not calculative). Moreover, “rational intelligence” is anyway only a surface intelligence whereas true intelligence is the deepest intelligence of “life” itself which churns out both man and his rational faculty.
This illustrates the huge problem that modern neo-atheism suffers from with its sole emphasis on rationalism. Any movement that does not properly integrate human unconscious and human myths and treats people as mere calculative rational computers, is not only ignorance but a dangerous recipe for alienation of man which is a cause of destruction. This point is elaborated in the works of Jung, Joseph Campbell, James Hillman and others in the modern west. As Jung beautifully pointed out, modern man will inevitably resist his complete automisation/ mechanisation into nothingness (carried forth by post-industrialised west), as man cannot stand forever his nullification. This discussion also explains the critical importance of “self knowledge”, i.e., the famous old saying: “Know Thyself”. Since most causal factors (and final ends) determining man’s psychic existence reside largely in his unconscious processes (which are outside rational awareness), therefore for a human being to correct himself and his behaviour, he has to develop conscious insight into the deepest recess of his self.
Due to the project of modern enlightenment and the foundation of Cartesian philosophy (putting the “thinking” subject at the centre), a radical rationalism was ushered in Modern Europe that slowly spread its tentacles to other parts of the world through imperialism and colonialism. This movement was characterised by a radical emphasis on the rational part of the human self that not only was believed to be the decipherer of the mystery of existence but could also gift the human race with ever-increasing scientific progress and betterment. Although the scientific achievements did put up a little show for a brief period of time, the two greatest wars ever fought in human history shattered the myth of Progress in Modern Europe. On the other hand, the catastrophic event of “Death of God” (in the west) led to Nihilism which eventually dissolved into Absurdism, and was further lost in the obnoxious haze of Post Modernism. Thus the claims of breaking the mystery of existence received a shattering fatal blow.
In the same century, novel developments in Quantum Physics opened up the whole new chaotic realm of sub-atomic frenzy which violated laws of logic and upset rational man’s expectations on how the universe behaves. Quantum Physics restored back the scent of mystery into our lives, rejecting rational man’s arrogant superimposition of rational categories on Reality, expecting it to follow his delineated patterns of thought all the time.
We need to concede that Reason is definitely important in our daily lives. There is no denying the fact. However, what it primarily des is to help us “survive”. It is not the decipherer of the ultimate question of Reality. Even if we look at the Darwinian interpretation of reason (which is the default “paradigm” of the larger scientific community and is celebrated by rationalists), it asserts that natural selection over a long period of time has gifted us with mind and advanced sensory apparatus so that we may survive better. It has therefore nothing to do with discovering the ultimate truth of existence. One can easily survive on false beliefs as well. An early man for example believing that ‘all fungi are poisonous’ clearly survives but he survives on a belief which is utter falsehood. Survival only entails that the human faculties “see” and “process” data through the filter of their “survival”. As Donald Hoffman shows, “fitness” (that drives natural selection) and “truth” are actually distinct notions. Fitness does not depend only on the state of affairs “out there” but the context, conditioning, and contingencies of the individual himself. Therefore, the individual’s survival is the lens through which reality is filtered out to that specific individual; it has nothing to do with ultimate Truth.
When we enter into the very heart of matter – the sub-atomic world – what do we find there? All our rational categorisations, laws of logic, are violated in the quantum space. This elusive nature of Reality which constantly escapes our mental categorisations is now accepted and conceded even by rationalistic science popularisers like Lawrence Krauss and Neil de Grasse Tyson, who constantly convey to their audience that the universe is absolutely in no obligation to make sense to us. The universe can and does constantly upset our commonsensical rationalistic notions and expectations. The mystery aspect of reality is what is referred to as “gaib”. It is the basic stance of all religious traditions. There is a manifest reality in front of us (az-zaahir) but its essence is elusive (al-baatin), the hidden. The atheistic modern world, taking lessons from secular science itself, could not after all reject religious foundations completely. Moreover, an important point to bear in mind is that “empiricism” does not entail “rationalism”. A “phenomenological attitude” is more true to empiricism rather than a rationalistic theoretical attitude.
The undue overemphasis on human rationality in popular discourse has taken away the focus of attention from the shameful, dangerous, beastly, irrational aspects of man. In the horrific World Wars, and in other horrendous war crimes and the various soul-ripping atrocities that humans cause to each other, we get to witness the kind of madness that lurks deep within a seemingly composed rational modern man. This criminal negligence of the unconscious and overemphasis on rational man is done at our own peril. As Carl Jung beautifully summed it up, “The world hangs on a thin thread and that thread is the psyche of man”. Holistic Man has been sliced up in rational terms. His other aspects have been suppressed. Modern man has lost his deep soul owing to the violent unilateral focus on rationalism, causing fateful neurosis and a spurt in the rise of dreadful patients of existential crises. It is only through integrating deep supra-rational aspects that we can live our lives as better human beings. Integration with the depths of one’s own self which connects man with larger nature across space and time, other beings and the spiritual, harmonises man in the true sense of the word.